Monitoring Microplastics, their Associated Chemicals and their Effects in Irish Deep Water Coral Habitats (Plast_Chem_Cora)

Although microplastic pollution is ubiquitous, accurate quantification is still required and plastic associated chemicals from environmental samples remain largely unexplored. Given the difficulties associated with deep water data acquisition (e.g. costly and opportunistic sampling, weather dependency and engineering restrictions), much of the research carried out on marine plastics to date are either restricted by low spatial or temporal resolution, are isolated studies or are subject-specific in nature due to a lack a multidisciplinary approach. Deep-water microplastic monitoring is treated like a black-box system, an area of science still in its infancy even though the deep sea is estimated to be the major global microplastic hotspot.

Preliminary video data collected by a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from an earlier project led by the team previously showed that large plastic items are abundant, especially fishing items, in deep water Irish coral reefs from the protected sites Porcupine Bank Canyon (PBC) and Moira Mounds (MM).

Litter found in the Porcupine Bank Canyon

This new project led by Dr. Alicia Mateos Cárdenas expands on such previous knowledge of the area and focusses on microplastics and their associated chemicals. The project  integrates a multidisciplinary approach with a large spatial range, temporal resolution and novel methodologies. Thus, by combining the topics of plastic pollution, chemical analysis and coral conservation the team expects to better understand what impacts are plastics having in protected deep sea areas.

Left: Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) which are our sampling locations: Porcupine Bank Canyon (PBC) and Moira Mounds (MM). Right: An overview of the project’s main methodologies.

The main outcomes of this project are to (1) accurately quantify the abundance and fate of microplastics and their associated chemicals in deep sea Irish canyons, (2) the interactions and impacts to the health of cold-water corals present in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and (3) the potential cause for observed variability throughout time. Microplastics and their associated chemicals will be analysed from samples collected in these SACs by the team’s Benthic Lander systems and sediment traps during 2019, 2020 and 2021. QA/QC techniques are given special importance to ensure the reliability of the analytical results produced. The duration of the project is of 36 months.

Group Contributors

Dr Alicia Mateos Cárdenas – Postdoc Fellow

Dr Aaron Lim – Co-PI

Prof Andy Wheeler – Co-PI


Marine Institute Post-Doctoral Fellowship Programme (more information)